This story focuses on a moment between two sisters, but it’s also about a father/daughter relationship. Which aspect was more present to you while writing?
It definitely started out as being about the two sisters. The ending, with the moment about the dad, was a surprise to me, which is the way I prefer things. I like the idea that the main character would know everything about her own point of view but absolutely nothing about her sister’s, even though she’d think she did. Was that an obvious statement? I can never tell.
“I can endure pain” the narrator says. Does the backstory hinge on this line?
Probably? I’m not sure I’m comfortable identifying that, or maybe I’m just too lazy to figure that out. I can say that it was when the narrator seemed most like herself. Like she’d landed on the moon and stabbed a flag in the moondirt that said I can endure pain better than you. You know, a claim of some sort.
“The sky turned pale and the sun was orange and smeared.” I like that image of the sun smeared…
Thanks. It went through many variations. I’m pretty sure at one point the sun was a jiggling yolk (I still hold out hope for that line). “Smeared” seemed too easy—I often have to fight off the urge to overwrite. (Now I’m wondering why I didn’t just say thanks and leave it at that.)
You’re the co-host and founder of the Quickies! reading series in Chicago. Tell us about it.
Quickies! is this idea I had a while ago about creating a reading that didn’t suck. A lot of readings, most of the readings I’ve been to, are way. too. long. And usually I’m standing up, so I have to start bending my knees and shifting from foot to foot, crossing and uncrossing my arms, moving my purse from my left shoulder to my right. Composing grocery lists in my head. Reciting Steel Magnolias to myself. You know, being bored and uncomfortable. So Quickies! is the opposite of that, or I hope it is. Readers can only read for five minutes, and what they read has to be a complete piece—no excerpts. We’ve bounced a couple people off the stage for going too long (a badge of honor that is rewarded by a second chance reading at a later Quickies!), so we’re pretty serious about the time limit. My friend, Mary Hamilton (an unbelievably amazing writer), is the co-founder and co-host. It’s the second Tuesday of every month at Innertown Pub and all the info is available at quickieschicago.blogspot.com. You’ll see pictures of the last Quickies! there, which devolved into a debaucherous dance party.
This issue marks SmokeLong‘s fifth anniversary, which has me thinking about longevity and growth. There’s no denying the literary arena is a fickle one, with journals coming and going, writers shooting onto the scene then falling into a long hiatus, editors changing houses, agents merging, and the trends! Don’t even get me started! How do you, as a writer, endure the ups and downs? Have you experienced any setbacks? What measures have you taken to grow?
That’s a great question. I’d like to congratulate you on that question. I’ve had a bit of success recently as a writer, and I was just walking home worrying about getting too comfortable with that success. I, naturally, made the decision to immediately stop writing and try and make it as a folk singer. I can play, like, three songs on the banjo, but that was kind of where I started out as a writer—I had, like, three stories and I just kept writing those stories until I felt comfortable letting go and writing other ones. I think what I’m getting at is when it feels easy, when you feel like people are believing the hype only you’ve believed in so far (and that was only when you were dancing around your cluttered room to Def Leppard and congratulating yourself on comparing the sun to a jiggling yolk), when you start to feel that kind of external success, it (at least for me) starts to feel untrue somehow. And then I convince myself that if I’m getting published right now, I must be writing stuff that falls into some kind of trend, and that trend will go the other way and I’ll be standing around going hey, uh, where’d everybody go? I thought I was cool?
However. If there are plural “ups,” it’ll be worth it (and necessary) to endure those plural “downs” to get there. And my secret to growth (eat that, Deepak Chopra) is that I always try to scare the shit out of myself with everything I write. If a story is going into uncharted territory, and I want to reach for the door locks or my purse mace, or if I’m worried about the eternal damnation of my soul, I know I’m really writing something.